Hustler Reviews: Danny Brown Goes Wild on Atrocity Exhibition

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Braden Barnett

In 2012, Kendrick Lamar seemingly turned hip-hop conventions upside down with the release of his smash hit single “Swimming Pools (Drank).” On the surface, the track appeared to be a typical party song, with lyrics encouraging heavy drinking and a catchy hook sung at house parties and in the backseat of cars across the country. A closer inspection of the song’s deeper meaning reveals a cry for help, and a harrowing portrait of addiction.

While this seemed revolutionary at the time, many did not realize that this has been the key theme of rapper Danny Brown’s music since he turned heads with 2011’s XXX. On his latest release, Atrocity Exhibition, Danny takes this dualism to its extremes, creating one of the most insane rap albums ever recorded.

Danny Brown has always been the master of creating an atmosphere, and from the album’s opener, “Downward Spiral,” we begin to experience just that. He sets the mood as he frantically describes his drugged-out state in his trademark high-pitched voice, conveying his squalor and desperation. The music is unlike any hip-hop beat produced in recent memory; it sounds more like the Breaking Bad theme song rather than a typical beat. It quickly becomes clear that if anything, Atrocity Exhibition has some of most creative music around backing Danny’s vocals.

These dark musical trends continue consistently throughout the entire record’s runtime. Sinister bells jingle on “Really Doe.” Fragmented vocal sampling on “Lost” reminds one of a classic Wu-Tang instrumental. A teetering, catchy synth line backs Danny’s lyrics about his near-death experience with cocaine on “White Lines.” The most phenomenal production is on “Ain’t It Funny,” in which horns roar against a cavernous bassline, allowing Danny to deliver his most braggadocious lyrics yet.

The lyrics on Atrocity Exhibition don’t just focus on drugs. Danny employs his impressive flow to discuss the impoverished nature of his hometown of Detroit on “When It Rain,” the first single released from the album. He raps, “Doomed from the time we emerged from the womb / So to cope, drugs we consume.” Other topics include the state of the music industry and his journey out of poverty to wealth and fame.

Danny’s skills alone would be enough to carry the record to greatness, but it in a smart move, guest features are sparse but highly effective. “Really Doe” is a classic posse anthem featuring Ab-Soul, Earl Sweatshirt, and even Kendrick Lamar. Every rapper here brings their best skills to the table. Years from now, people will look back at this track as one featuring the best emcees of our time.

The most astounding thing about Atrocity Exhibition is its versatility. One can listen alone with headphones to take in the dark themes, like watching a trainwreck, or turn the volume all the way up at a party. It showcases what makes Danny Brown great: the ability to make you both laugh and cry. Atrocity Exhibition may be hard to digest at first, but it’s unabashedly unique, and undeniably fantastic.

Key Tracks: “Downward Spiral”, “Really Doe”, “Ain’t It Funny”, “When It Rain”